Tornado second disaster to hit Georgia this month

Homes of five families in the Douglas Georgia Stake were damaged in floods that began March 7 and capped out March 15 in south Georgia. The floods caused an estimated $270 million in damage and placed 52 of Georgia's 159 counties on a presidential disaster declaration list.

Among those homes flooded was that of Douglas D. and Kathy Gilbert. He is president of the Douglas stake. The other four homes in the stake that were flooded belong to Joseph (Sr.) and Hazel Delk and three of their children, all of whom reside in a lakeside community in the Vidalia (Ga.) Ward.Pres. and Sister Gilbert's home, located between Douglas and Broxton, Ga., received about 3 inches of water as the nearby Seventeen-Mile River overflowed. Although the amount was small, it came as a big surprise to them and others in their River Bend Subdivision. "We live on a knoll, so we feel fortunate that we received only a few inches of water," said Pres. Gilbert, who moved to south Georgia in May 1995. "We watched the water as it began to rise, but our neighbors kept saying, `We've been here 15 years and we've never seen water reach your property. Even in '94 (the year of major flooding in south Georgia), your property didn't flood.' "

Still, Pres. and Sister Gilbert took precautions. "I work for a manufacturer that builds modular offices. We had some scrap wood, 2 by 6 inches, that I brought home for firewood. We stacked them and used them as blocks to put our furniture on. Even though we had several inches of water in the house, everything was protected, except for the floors and the deep freezer, which was in the garage."

The Gilberts feel fortunate. Some of their neighbors had 4 to 5 feet of water in their homes.

Parents of two sons and a daughter - Ryan, 14, Alicia, 12, and James, 10 - the Gilberts have no other relatives in Georgia. "I've moved around a lot," he said. From Buffalo, Wyo., he has lived in Hawaii (as a student at BYU-Hawaii), Louisiana, Texas and Nevada. After he married Kathy Tate 16 years ago, they moved to Mississippi where he worked from 1990 to 1995 with her father, an agricultural consultant. In October 1995, just five months after the Gilberts moved to Georgia, he was called as president of the Douglas stake.

"I was surprised at the number of people who called and offered to help us clean up after the flood," he said. "The members have been in and out helping us and our neighbors. It's really been something to see."

Sister Gilbert said that personal pride kept her from telling people what she needed help with. "We had so many phone calls, people asking what they could do," she said. "I guess I wanted people to think we had things under control, so I'd say we are all right. One member called and asked, Do you need help?' Then he said,That's a stupid question; of course you need help!' So he came on over."

"One thing I learned from this is that we ought not to just offer to help as we stand off in the distance. When someone's in trouble, we ought to just go on over and help."

Typical of those who came to help were David Cox, stake executive secretary, and his daughter Tracy Francisco, who waded in waist-deep water to get to the Gilberts' home.

Some 50 miles away, Joseph and Hazel Delk faced their own challenges, like the Gilberts, they also had moved around a lot. Brother Delk, a construction worker, moved his family from their native Georgia to Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wyoming and Utah. They reared five children, mostly in apartments and rental houses.

They said they felt they had found their own version of paradise when, after his retirement in 1979, they bought property on the shore of Lake Moses about five miles from the small town of Uvalda in south Georgia.

They created an idyllic retreat at Lazy River Estates near where the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers join to form the Altamaha, one of South Georgia's major waterways. They based their haven in a double-wide house trailer, with a built-on screen porch facing Dead River Road and a recreation room overlooking the lake.

"We've just found this a very peaceful place. We like the country life here," said Brother Delk, 73, with a wave of the walking stick he uses after recently having had surgery on a knee.

Adding to their enjoyment is the close proximity of their children. A son, Joseph Delk Jr., and his wife, Dana, moved in next door with their daughters, Mattie, now 3, and Joanna, 2. Across the narrow dirt road live a daughter, Martha Cook and her son, Hayes, and next to them lives another daughter, Tina Pope, a widow. Another daughter, Nora, and her husband, Jerry Ramsey, live in Uvalda.

Life was pleasant. Then came two floods, the first in February and the second in March. Water had barely receded from the first disaster, and work on restoring the property had begun when the second flood came.

Members of the Vidalia and Hazlehurst wards rallied to help the extended family "put things right" again after the first flood. The Delks insisted that efforts be concentrated in helping daughter Tina get her home in order. Members of the Church had barely finished putting in new flooring when the second flood hit.

Under normal circumstances, the Delks walk down a 10-foot embankment to the lake behind their home. During the second flood, water rose 20 feet, standing nine feet in their yard. Sister Delk, who is 5 feet 3 inches tall, said that water "Was chest high" inside their home, which is raised about 5 feet off the ground by blocks.

Yet during a Church News interview, Brother and Sister Delks seemed preoccupied, worrying about "those poor folks" in north Georgia who were victims of a tornado March 20. "We had plenty of time to get our stuff out, but those people did not have any warning," Sister Delks said.

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